NCAA, Soccer, Sports

Notebook: A change in identity has BU on the cusp of redemption

men's soccer
Boston University men’s soccer players cheer after defeating the College of the Holy Cross 3-1 Nov. 2021. The men’s soccer team will have a game against Lehigh University on Oct. 29, 2022 at Nickerson Field. MOHAN GE/ DFP FILE

Consistency and stability lead to quality start
There’s one word to describe the Boston University men’s soccer season so far: consistency. That was the team’s biggest issue last year, as the Terriers only saw one victory through their first 11 games before rounding into form and winning three of their last five. That variability cost the Terriers a spot in the postseason play, which lit a fire under head coach Kevin Nylen.

“[Our mission] started when our season ended last November,” Nylen said. “We didn’t participate in the Patriot League Tournament. We were one of the teams on the outside looking in and wishing we were still playing … Since we’ve been back in August, I think the guys have had really good shifts and it’s been a collective step from the get-go.”

The third-year head coach preached stability to his players in hopes of having a better season. Those words have been answered.

“We’ve played over 75 percent of our season thus far,” Nylen said. “That shows that we’ve been rather consistent.”

So far, the Terriers (5-4-6, 3-1-3 Patriot League) have been a steadier team — their longest losing streak this season is only two games — and they’ve also improved on the road. While BU didn’t find a single win away from Nickerson Field last season, they’ve been a respectable road opponent this year, going 2-3-2.

Maturity boosts Terriers to big wins
In 2021-22, the Terriers played just one ranked team. This year they didn’t waste any time. They took down No. 9 ranked University of New Hampshire, despite being hugely outshot and out-chanced. It was the Terriers’ first win against a ranked opponent since Oct. 26, 2019, and was just their second win against a non-conference foe in their last 28 tries.

“It’s a collective thought process, “ Nylen said. “It’s a competitive stamina … [and] I think that our guys have done a great job up to this point.”

The Terriers went unbeaten through their first four games to start the season. The last of the bunch came in front of a packed Nickerson Field as the Terriers defeated Merrimack College on BU’s Welcome Back Day.

Following the Merrimack win, the Terriers would begin their longest winless streak of the year, where they failed to win a game for over a month. Despite the gap between victories, it wasn’t all bad. The Terriers drew four of the seven games, and two of their three losses were one-goal defeats.

The higher number of draws in the team’s record is due to the NCAA changing its overtime rules. Starting this season, games tied at the end of 90 minutes would result in both teams earning a tie and one point. No more overtime was something that Nylen had zero complaints about.

“I was in support of it, I voted to support it,” he said about the already busy regular season schedule. “If we play on a Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, and you add overtime, that’s an extra game. You’re playing four games a week.”

The poor run of form finally ended against Bucknell University in a 2-0 victory on Oct. 8, which was the university’s Soc’toberfest and Alumni Day. Before this game, the program honored longtime coach Neil Roberts, who led the program for 35 seasons with a distinct identity.

Strong backline keeps team competitive
Nylen has found his own identity this year: defensive structure. The Terriers have gone from a back four to a back three and two wingbacks. The unit is full of experience and toughness that has translated onto the pitch, with BU dropping from 1.56 goals against per game to 0.87. That change was evident when BU shutout reigning PL champions Loyola University Maryland 1-0 last Saturday.

A lot of credit is also owed to senior goalkeeper Francesco Montali. He currently ranks ninth in the nation in save percentage and has already recorded seven clean sheets compared to three from last year.

Nylen, the former coach at Florida International University, where Montali first attended, also mentioned that, just like college students, Montali is learning one day at a time and any experience, good or bad, will benefit him.

“Last year was Francesco’s first year playing college soccer in goal,” Nylen said. “We have a year more maturity for everybody.”

Although the team has improved defensively, the goals have been hard to come by, with the team ranking third worst in the conference in goals per game. The lone bright spot has been senior midfielder Colin Innes, who has quadrupled his goal total from last year to lead the team with four goals.

“We have depth and we have guys who when their name is called, they gotta be prepared and they’re gonna get chances,” Nylen said.

The Terriers have especially missed the presence of junior forward Ronaldo Marshall, who was second on the team in goals last season as a central focal point of the attack.

Despite the lack of star power up front — compounded by a short-term injury to star senior midfielder Quinn Matulis who led the team with five goals last season — BU finds itself right in the thick of the PL standings with two games to play. They are in second with 12 points and have yet to face two of the PL’s bottom three to finish the season.

For a program picked to finish eighth in the conference’s preseason poll, BU is poised to surprise many as the regular season comes to a close.

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